It was his 18th birthday on the 24th June 2005 and Messi had just signed his first senior contract with Barcelona, keeping him at the club until 2010. He had a buyout clause of €150 million. On the 24th August, two months later after signing the contract, came his breakthrough in the Joan Gamper trophy. This was Barcelona’s preseason.
His first game was against and put in a good performance which didn’t go unnoticed. There was a real risk that Barcelona could potentially be losing Messi before even made his mark. Inter Milan were willing to pay his buyout clause and increase his wages significantly. This scared the club, so in the second week of September, Messi signed a new contract tying him to the club until 2014.
Going into the start of his first La Liga season, Messi was absent due to issues regarding his legal status in Spain. After an investigation, Messi acquired Spanish citizenship and was handed the number 19 shirt. After a few months, he fully established himself in the side becoming the first-choice winger on the right-hand side.
The little Argentine formed a fierce attacking trip with Samuel Eto’o and the Brazilian Ronaldinho. This gave him the confidence to put in standout performances against Real Madrid and Chelsea.
After 25 games, Messi had scored 8 goals in that season as well as his first Champions League goal, his season ended abruptly in March 2006 in the return leg against Chelsea of the last 16 of the competition. He suffered a torn hamstring, and this ruled him out of the Champions League final against Arsenal, which they won. He was so distraught about not making the game, he didn’t celebrate in the team’s victory,
Although Barcelona had started a gradual decline, the young Messi had become one of the best players in the world during the 2006-07 season. Scoring 17 goals in 36 games, this made the world stand up and notice. Again, he was injured during the campaign and he missed 3 months from November 2006. In February he returned in the Champions League, this time against Liverpool. He was effectively marked out the game and Barca were dumped out the competition. In La Liga, he ended the reason hitting 11 goals in the last 13 games of the season.
Fast forward another year in March 2007, he scored his first hat-trick against arch-rivals Real Madrid. He was the first player to score 3 goals against them for 12 years with the match ending in a 3-3 draw. At March’s end, he signed a new bumper contract, increasing his wages again.
Lionel Messi has always been regarded as a rival to Diego Maradona as being the best player to ever grace the game. In April of that year, he nearly replicated Maradona’s famous goals in the space of three weeks. Firstly, against Getafe on the 18th, he scored a breath-taking goal that was similar to that of Maradona’s “Goal of the Century” in the 86 World Cup in Mexico. Messi collected the ball on the halfway line on the right-hand side, passed 5 Getafe defenders and scoring from a tight angle, similar to Maradona.
Later, In June, he scored the ‘hand of God’ goal against Espanyol by launching himself at the goal, gliding it past the keeper via his hand, similar to what Maradona did against England at the same 86′ World Cup. Messi’s stock continued to rise but Barcelona stumbled, failing in the Copa del Rey final and losing the league to Real Madrid.
As other stars lost form, Messi became the centre attraction for Barcelona at only 20. In 2007, the world awarded him as the third-best player that year behind the Ballon d’Or winner Kaka and in the future, his ultimate rival Cristiano Ronaldo. He was also awarded second in the running for the FIFA World Player of the Year, again, behind Kaka.
During the 07-08, he was still able to score 16 goals despite a spare of injuries, where he tore his hamstring in December of 2007. On his return in 2008, he scored away at Parkhead against Celtic. He again was injured on the return leg at the Nou Camp and this ended up with Barcelona finishing third in the league, eliminated from the Champions League by Man Utd and without a trophy.
Barcelona were in need of a overhaul after two embarrassing seasons by their standards. The coach, Rijkaard left along with Ronaldinho. Messi got the number 10 shirt and signed a new contract (again) with a salary of nearly 8 million Euros per year, making him the clubs highest paid player and rightly so. During the next 4 years Messi would remain virtually injury free as Barcelona implemented a new training and nutrition regime and assigned him a physiotherapist while was away on international duty with Argentina. This would allow Messi to reach his full potential and 2008 ended with him becoming runner up to Ronaldo in the Ballon d’Or and FIFA World Player of the Year.
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